Giving thanks for lessons learned

apple pie



Thanksgiving is upon us and it’s time for pies!  It’s also a time to give thanks to our health, food, friends, and family.

It could also be a great time to give thanks to our human ability to learn from our personal and business life.

On the business front, we’re often very busy with executing projects aligned with strategic initiatives. That can create lots of daily pressure, and since we’re human, mistakes are made and things fall through the cracks. Also, since we’re human, we have the capacity to learn from our good and bad experiences.

Let’s all take a moment to celebrate this wonderful learning attribute. And when we come back from our Thanksgiving holiday, how about thinking of ways to use our other wonderful ability — implementing lessons learned for a better future.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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Is RMO the new PMO?


PMO (Project Management Office)

RMO (Results Management Office)

I recently found a white paper title: “PMO vs. RMO: Which is the best way to get the most business value from your IT investments“, written by Diane Murray and Al Kagan from Deloitte Consulting. Their overall premise is that traditional PMOs that focus on time and budget is not cutting it.

Diane Murray, Principal at Deloitte, says, “Everybody knows that it’s not enough to bring a big technology project in on time and on budget these days. If it doesn’t contribute to the overall business strategy and deliver results, it’s considered a failure.” Al Kagan, Deloitte Director, follows this up with the need to shift towards results. He says, “This simple shift can help remedy problems of strategic alignment in most PMOs – a Results Management Office (RMO) – a reinvention of the PMO that goes well beyond a name change.” Check out the paper and read their points on why PMOs are not enough.

I recently conducted a simple survey at the Gartner Symposium conference. I asked people to pick either speed and cost or results. Most all of them picked results. I plan to continue this survey at the upcoming PMI PMO conference in San Diego.

I found there’s already a desire by some senior directors to focus on project results. When will this desire trickle down to the front line team? When will we become better at defining metrics that focus on outcome (quality and strategy alignment) rather than focus only on the time and cost to produce that outcome?

Look me up at the PMI PMO conference. I will be found at the International Institute for Learning (IIL) booth as PIEmatrix is partnering with them. I would enjoy a conversation.


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For our customers using Google Chrome

It has recently come to our attention that users who are working in PIEmatrix using Google Chrome may encounter problems with performance and downloading files. We have isolated the problems to the Google Chrome flash plugin called PepperFlash.  At this time, we recommend that you disable the use of PepperFlash within Chrome, and instead use the flash plugin available directly from Adobe. Disabling PepperFlash should resolve download issues within PIEmatrix, and enable the PIEmatrix application to run more quickly on your machine. While we look for other possible solutions, here are instructions for disabling Pepper Flash.

  1. Open a tab in Chrome and enter chrome://plugins into the address bar at the top of the window:

    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 1.41.15 PM

  2. You can either find your Shockwave Flash player plugins by scrolling down the page, or you can hit Command-F (for Mac) or Ctrl-F (for PC) to bring up a search box. Search for “pepper”, and it should take you directly to your Shockwave Flash plugins. If Chrome is using Pepper Flash, it will look like this in your plugins list:
    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 1.44.20 PM
  3. If you have more than one plugin for Shockwave Flash, please skip to step four. If you do not have another version of Shockwave Flash Player, you can go to this website to download the latest version from Adobe:  You will need to download and install this plugin, or PIEmatrix and other applications that require Flash will stop working when you disable the Pepper Flash plugin.
  4. To disable the Pepper Flash player, click the Disable link as highlighted in the above screen shot. If you have properly disabled Pepper Flash, your plugins page will look like this:
    Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 1.44.46 PM
  5. Once you have disabled Pepper Flash, you will need to close all Chrome tabs and windows and restart the browser to make sure the changes have taken effect. Once you have completed these steps, you should find that PIEmatrix runs a bit faster, and any download problems should be resolved.

Please keep in mind that Pepper Flash may reenable itself any time you update Google Chrome, so if you start to see problems with downloads again, you should check and make sure that Pepper Flash is still disabled.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about PIEmatrix. You can reach us via email at, via that chat feature on our website, or by phone at (802)318-4891.

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How to get people to care about your project

Why this project


Ever wonder why you work 10+ hours per day to get your large and complex project done on time, only to find it was late because other people just didn’t put their hearts into it? A project is something we’re assigned to. It has some deliverables, milestones, timelines, a budget, team members, and an end customer. Most of the time, that’s all team members know about our projects. The project charters are boring and technical. Some read it once, while many never see it. It’s no wonder we don’t understand why we do projects.

What if we made our project more personal? What if we knew the project’s clear purpose and bought into it? What if it had a personal story?

We go to the movies to get moved by the story. If it’s good, it can really touch our emotions. The same applies to products we buy from brands like Nike, Apple, Starbucks, and others that have presented a clear story behind their business. People who work at these companies tend to have more passion than employees at other companies.

Before reading further, review the definition of a brand story and why you need to tell it on Bernadette Jiwa’s page. Bernadette is a well-known blogger, book author, and brand consultant. I have her book, “The Fortune Cookie Principle”, which I highly recommend. The main message for large projects is that, rather than a project being a “commodity” (one on a list of many), you can make it into something that has it’s own emotional purpose that people will care about and buy into.

Imagine the power of our projects if our team members and stakeholders had passion or at at least a shared vision for making achieving success. If our projects have their own brands with clear value and purpose that people believe in, they will become more successful. People will perform better. They will put more heart into their work.

To get started, consider providing a narrative for your project’s description. Place this story in locations that are accessible and visible by all team members. In PIEmatrix, a good place would be the project’s description field.

  1. The Purpose. Describe the ultimate purpose for your project. Example: “This project’s output deliverable is a new system that will give our end customers a faster and more personal experience when they purchase our products.”
  2. The People. Share some background about this project, who got it started, and who’s part of it. Example: “Tanya Harris from Customer Support was instrumental in getting this initiative started. Her vision and business case was powerful and we look forward to working with her team as we define requirements. Luke French was chosen as our project manager because of his past experience with CRM systems. He’s excited to be working with the project team. Ask him about his favorite hobby and I’m sure you will be surprised.”
  3. The Sharing. Explain how the team can provide feedback to make the project’s process content even better. Include all of your contact information and encouragement for input. Also, encourage everyone to collaborate and share knowledge.

Next is to spread this information every where you can during the project. Revisit the purpose in every staff meeting. Show how it is relevant  and consistent to what you are doing this week. Celebrate how the team members and stakeholders have contributed to the purpose. Explain how the process just got a tad better and who stepped forward with innovative ideas.

Don’t forget to not only tell the story, but also work on “storydoing” as described by Ty Montague in his recent HBR blog post.

Good project stories get us involved. They touch us personally. We become part of the project brand. We put our heart into it.

I would love to hear about your own story about your project, how you have shared its purpose, and what impact the team members made in making it more successful.


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How would Steve Jobs have done a tool selection?

Have you ever conducted a vendor selection and given the winning prize to the vendor that had the most requirement features checked? And how about finding a year later that that the tool is not being used as expected? Did you not worry since you were able to show management that you did the right thing since you can demonstrate that the selected vendor tool does all of things in the features requirement list? No heads roll. No problem.

Well, we really can’t hide that problem for too long. This is a common story since many of us tend to get stuck with the features war syndrome. That is, go with the vendor that spent the most money building the most features. If all the features were dead on with our real purpose and objectives, then maybe we would be using the tool today and all would be happy. But, what if we find that our feature needs were a partial lie?

I propose that we focus  on the truth — the real purpose of our business projects and the pains we want to diminish. Let’s have a little fun and think about how Steve Jobs, one of my top heroes of my life, would handle this.

I would like to believe that he would have pulled together the right talented people that shared his vision and passion. Then he would have supported his people with the right enabling technology.

What would Steve say if I had asked him what he wanted as a list of requirements for a project and portfolio management (PPM) tool? I don’t think he would have sat down and listed 107 features that the tool must have. I believe he would have have jotted down on a napkin his purpose and past pains, handed it to me, and then say go out and find a solution that solves these problems. Many of us tend to start with the opposite, which is identify a long laundry list of features. In fact, many of us would take that list and then pass it on to others to see what else they would add.

Let’s take a look at how Steve would have kicked this off.


Steve Jobs’ Napkin.


The following is my guess on what the napkin would have contained. (In reality, Steve would have probably said to not bother him with this, but I like to imagine the following story).

Purpose: Continue innovating with great design and capture new markets with products that can change people’s lives.


  • Projects are not always aligned with or supporting our purpose described above.
  • Projects are not always effective, meaning the project’s end customers are not always happy with the end results.
  • Projects are not always efficient, meaning they are late and cost too much, resulting again with unhappy customers.
  • They have too many issues and risks. Shall I repeat — unhappy customers?
  • We haven’t had the real-time transparency to make smart decisions fast.
  • Our way of doing projects are not innovative. We don’t continuously improve.
  • People are not good at communicating.
  • People don’t always know how to do the work the right way the first time.
  • It’s all too complex. There’s got to be a simple and elegant design to help our project people have fun.

You may agree with me that most PPM RFP features list wouldn’t even cover half of the above. Or if it would, you really wouldn’t know it. You may get lucky.


Mapping Steve’s Napkin.


The next step in our story is to take Steve’s napkin notes and move them to the next level. Let’s choose the following objective from the napkin and add four objectives:

Projects are not always efficient, meaning they are late and cost too much, resulting again with unhappy customers.

  • Consistently have a set of steps and direction that drive better requirements gathering
  • Tips on how to better understand end customer’s objectives
  • More transparent communications between the project team and the end customer
  • Better understanding of quality expectations and balancing it with speed to market

How can a PPM tool help? Here are a few examples taking it down to the next level:

  • Consistently have a set of steps and direction that drive better requirements gathering
    • Explain how your tool can contain a set standard or best practice action steps to be used on all like projects. Describe how these steps are created and then reused over and over?
    • Explain how they can contain the right knowledge to give people guidance and good practices.
    • Can your tool allow people to work together while designing these new process steps?
    • Show how fast project team members can get to this information.
    • Show how easy it is for the standard to get updated with lessons learned
  • Tips on how to better understand end customer’s objectives
    • (same requirements as above, so we have this one covered)
  • More transparent communications between the project team and the end customer
    • Describe how your tool can assign different team members, stakeholders, and end-users to the project activities
    • How fast is it to assign people
    • End customers will not be trained in the entire PPM system, so explain how intuitive for them to quickly figure out their own assigned tasks
    • Does your tool have a messaging feature so team members, stakeholders, and end users communicate with each other from within the project
    • Explain how fast and intuitive it is for people to use the messaging features
    • Do the messaging features tie in with email notifications
  • Etc.

Help Vendors See the Bigger Picture.


A great way to prepare for a smart tool selection is to provide the right information to the vendors. The more they are informed, the better they can show if they will help you succeed. Don’t just send them the lower level requirements items, but also include why you are asking these requirements. What may surprise you in a good way is some vendors may come back with a different spin on how to solve the higher level purpose and objectives. This different approach may be better than your initial thoughts. Most vendors know how their end customers use their tools to solve similar needs.

Keep in mind that there are other factors to consider besides the vendor features. For example, people, process, and culture impacts. Also executive commitment and support for fanatical end-user training. For example, if an objective is to get the most out of the new solution, then ask the vendor how they will provide the best deployment process to ensure adoption success rather than asking them how fast they can get the people trained.

Do you think Steve Jobs would have wanted to spend $200K on a new tool because of the tool’s vast feature set, or do you think he would have preferred to spend that money to provide people a way to better innovate with great design and capture new markets?

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2 Reasons Why Projects and Processes are Kissing Cousins

Kissing Cousins

If you ask someone in HR, marketing, or finance who runs projects, many say IT does that. Then if you ask someone in IT who runs processes, they say that’s what the other business departments do.

In Wikipedia, the definition of a “project” is “something frequently involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.” It then says that projects can be further defined as “temporary rather than permanent”. I guess the author just meant to say it has a start and an end.

Now let’s look at how Wikipedia defines the word “process”. There are many definitions, but the one we want is related to a “business process”. The definition says it’s “a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product.”

Wiki Answers says,
“A project is a unique endeavor with a beginning and an end undertaken to achieve a goal.”
“A process is a repetitive collection of interrelated tasks aimed at achieving a certain goal.”

I would like to make the point that a process and a project are interrelated like kissing cousins.

1) Projects desire processes.

A project needs a process, where it desires a collection of related, structured activities since the objective of the work is to achieve a certain goal. For example, implementing your product at a new customer site would use a smart process that has all the right connected pieces of work to get the customer up and running fast and smoothly. Note, the word “smart” is defined as continuously seeking better ways with creativity and value.

The problem with project management tools is that they don’t give you this impression since their approach is focusing on a task list, where each one can be it’s own world. Projects fail because we spend too little time understanding that a project is driven by a process under the hood. Our project process can suck and kill us. Or it can blast away issues, risks, and do wonderful things. One is just a list. The other is passionate about delivering the right knowledge in real time and displaying visual relationships.

2) Processes are passionate about projects

A process is like a project, where it’s an endeavor with a beginning and an end. It may have a shared goal but the deliverable is unique each time. For example, hiring a new employee has the outcome of a new individual joining the organization, but the process of hiring is reused over and over. Like projects, the hiring process has a start and an end.

The problem with business process management tools is that most are focused on transactional, automated processes. Gartner and Forrester say that 80% of our business process are unstructured, collaborative processes. This means that people get involved to collaborate and get things done, such as the hiring example. Don’t think that if it takes only an hour to do from start to end, it can’t be a project. Projects can come in all sizes. So, can hiring a person be a project? Sure. Can processing a customer bill from start to finish be a project? Sure. Can you view all of your new employee on-boardings as a project portfolio list? Sure.

In summary, projects and processes share similar characteristics and really need each other. A project with a great process will be more successful. A process with project like methods like planning, execution, and governance will be more successful. In both cases, imagination driven with discipline will make sparks fly. But don’t tell your aunt.

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Taming the monster process

Monster Process


This post is about implementing what Forrester calls a collaborative process or what Gartner calls an unstructured process. It’s a process that is not automated for transactional purposes, but is more fluid and driven by people, which accounts for about 80% of all business processes.

I have had a number of meetings with customers about creating and kicking off new collaborative/unstructured processes for their departments. They are very excited to make a new difference. In fact, they are so passionate, they don’t realize they will probably make the top two big mistakes.

Mistake Number 1 – The monster! 

Our hero sits down and figures out all of the details to make her process awesome. She has devised over 300 steps and is proud that every one of them will make a difference. She’s creating a good beast to kill the bad beast like in the new movie called Pacific Rim.

Here are some thoughts on why this approach often fails and what to do about it:

- To much of a good thing. To much content, especially when it’s too detailed can overwhelm the users on day one. If you loose them at the beginning, it will take a long time to get them to buy in. And if they don’t use it, your time was wasted.

How about keeping it simple and high level. Add just enough content to cover the critical basics. The people who will execute the process may be able to figure out how to fill in the cracks. This also gives them more power and accountability to come back with new ideas to add more content into the process. It will then grow organically.

- Vacuum. The process is built in a vacuum, meaning the people in the field are not part of designing the process. The new process may not have the right steps needed for real application. It may be too structured, and sticking to one view point may mean missing out on all of the other fluid parts or possibilities. The result is a backlash from the users.

Instead, get others involved in collaborating with you while designing and testing the process. Insights from others will help define what you may miss. They may also provide ideas on how to simplify. Finally, giving others the ability to collaborate with you will help them feel ownership and therefore execute the process with the same passion as you.

- Paralysis. I have known some people to take months to design a new process. They get overwhelmed with day-to-day priorities that come in and out. They get stuck with getting back on track since they need to rethink where they were. This eventually leads to being perpetually stuck with business as usual, forgoing creativity, innovation, and growth.

Rather, try picking a day with a couple of your colleagues and super users and hash out the first sections of a process that can be executed next week. Or you could complete the entire process at a very high level, get people to start using it for real, and then revisit it for improvement with feedback in a few weeks.

Mistake Number 2 – What training?

Our hero finally has the new process ready and is excited about getting it deployed and used. She gets the team together and reviews the cool new process. She asks for feedback and everyone is quiet. Oh, it must be ready then. No objections? Cool. Jump right in.

We’re all used to going to a class, workshop, or meeting on how to learn something new. However, how many times do we go back to our daily work with good intentions only to get go back into the same routine? Since collaborative processes are driven by humans rather than machines, it’s hard to institute a new process when the old one still works, somewhat.

I have learned the hard way that providing lecture training to a group of 20-30 people is very ineffective, although it is efficient. When it comes to learning, efficiency does not guarantee effectiveness. My firm now provides training programs that are very personal with a low student to teacher ratio, such as 3:1 or 4:1 at most.

Consider taking the time to give enough training so the students understand the new process inside and out. That’s the only way you can ensure they will not only adopt, but take a lead in being creative and providing feedback to improve it over time.


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Click Me Please! The Big Plus.

Big Plus Button

Some design ideas come from customer feedback. Some others come from watching what customers do, keeping up with other software designs, and just plain guesswork. 

Many applications have a core set of features we use all the time, such as create a post, add a comment, etc. In PIEmatrix, we too have common actions like create project, create new step, add a box. So, why do new users stumble? Because they need to find the create button along side a bunch of others that are not used as often.

Living in the woods among the trees have made it easy for me to miss the logical design, which is just make the darn create button large and center! It took me a few years, but I get it now. In our new upcoming version, we will add the big plus where it’s meant to be.

Below are five images from our new application coming out soon. How many seconds will it take you to find a create button? For those of you who are PIEmatrix customers, is this an improvement?


Add Box



Add Step



Create Project


Add To-do



Add File

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PMI Symposium Survey Results. What’s hot on your plate?

PMI Survey Results


PIEmatrix recently sponsored the PMI Champlain Valley Chapter’s 2013 Symposium event. We set up a survey for the attendees. We asked “What are your top 3 project best practice needs that you would like to discuss with your peers?”

There were about 170 people at the event and we received 53 survey entries. We then compiled the results into a spreadsheet. The above diagram shows that there were many different answers. The pie chart explodes at 6% and higher, showing the following as the most common best practice needs.

  • Stakeholder Management 9%
  • Time Management 8%
  • Resource Management 8%
  • Scope Management 7 %
  • Executive Commitment 6%
  • Best Practices 6%

The remaining list contained other items such as portfolio management, risk management, communications management, document storage, outsourcing, people skills, etc.

We did a similar survey at a PMO conference about 5 years ago. Compared with this year, the common top six choices were resource and scope management. This time around it was interesting to see stakeholder management and executive commitment placed in the top 5 needs. Maybe we are becoming more open with discussions on how to engage executives and stakeholders. That’s a good thing.





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3 Reasons for User Adoption Death Gaps (Part 2)

In our previous Part 1 version of this blog, I introduced the 3 reasons why there is a gap between the total number of software solutions and tools and the number of those that have been well adopted (used daily).

3 reasons for the adoption death gap:

1) Users didn’t understand the benefits.

2) Users didn’t receive awesome (and continuous) training.

3) Users gave up since it was too hard to use.

Today, I will share some ideas on how to improve user adoption based on these three failure reasons.


Improve Adoption


How to reduce the death gap and improve adoption?

1) Show the users how the solution can indeed bring new value to their own work and performance. Take the time and invest not only in your value messages, but also ensure you receive clear understanding and acceptance from the users, especially your power performers and key influencers. Share existing successes if the solution is already being used by some people or plan to capture succes for new initiatives. If the solution is not yet purchased, involve the future users during the vendor selection process and ask for their input regarding personal value.

Here are some detailed steps:

  • Learn what is most important to them personally (in general). For example, is it to get work done faster so there’s not as much pressure? Is it to receive higher performance marks to get a raise and buy a new car?
  • Align how to fit the vendor tool value points with their personal value needs and come up with a message.
  • Test the message with a few end users and update it as needed.
  • Create a campaign on how to get that message out. The best way to start is to include it with your solution’s training sessions. Make sure that the message is not only delivered, but well received. Saying you shared the value points is not the end game. The end game is for the user to say, “Yes, that’s right. This is going to be cool.”
  • Then capture a few success stories and share it with everyone as you expand.
  • Finally, continue to review, refine, and re-deliver the personal value message. It must continue non-stop until the solution is part of everyday business life.

2) Invest heavily in training. Build a dedicated group of trainers who will be great at training others. Ensure these trainers will also be heavy users of the solution. They should be people friendly, patient, and natural with the solution’s navigation, features, and benefits. Give these trainers the best train-the-trainer services you can get from the software vendor or from the vendor’s partner. Time the training so the users will be applying what they learn immediately, not weeks later. People forget. Add enough budget and time for ongoing training to help people get better and better. Be patient and persistent with education. Knowledge is power!

Here are some detailed steps:

  • Assuming upper management is sold on the vendor solution, now you need to sell them on making sure the investment kicks off and then sticks for a long time. Depending on your organization’s politics, it may either be better to ask for the training budget during the initial licensing budget approval process or to wait until after the initial license costs are approved. The former makes more sense in most cases.
  • Break down the budget needs for both the initial vendor training and internal ongoing training. The vendor training is hard cash budgeting. The internal training cost is soft budgeting, which is really time allocation approvals.
  • Consider either train-the-trainer or train-everyone programs from the vendor or vendor partner. If you do go with the latter, ensure it also includes the former since you will need to invest in a permanent internal expert training group.
  • Get the best training you can get from the vendor. If the vendor is suggesting 20 hours for train-the-trainer, ask for 30 since you will need more time later. This always happens, so reduce the number of time you need to go back for budget approvals.
  • As mentioned above, consider the best people to be the trainers.
  • Keep the student to teacher ratio as low as possible. At PIEmatrix we keep our training ratios around 3:1, that is three students to every one trainer during each session. This provides maximum training impact to help cover both advanced and slower learners.
  • Include your personal value message (from step one above) in your training classes.
  • Require hands-on training exercises. Lectures only just doesn’t hit home.
  • Break complex solution training down into smaller parts so the students consume and practice what they learn in smaller bites.
  • Revisit training with the same students multiple times. A good approach is to make each future session more advanced along with revisiting to ensure everyone gets some value.
  • Consider conduction weekly or monthly user experience group sharing discussions. During these sessions users and trainers can share challenges, questions, ideas, etc.

3) Revisit your software solution selection process and add or elevate the importance of UI (user interface) design and usability. Don’t let decisions be made in favor of features. Also, don’t be influenced by the feature wars promoted by vendor analyst reports, such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant or the Forrester Wave. You may end up making a decision purely on how many requirements are met rather than whether or not the solution will be a burden to learn and use.

The following are the five pillars of usability to help when reviewing tools:

  • Learnable - How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Memorable - When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Efficient - Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Effective – Does the tool help get work done better, faster, cheaper?
  • Error-tolerant - How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Enjoyable – Above all else, does the solution provide an enjoyable user experience?

At PIEmatrix we no first hand that if it’s not friendly, it will not be used. That’s why we work hard to continuously improve the user experience.

In summary, reducing your user acceptance death gap will have a huge impact on realizing your return on investment for all of your enterprise software solutions and tools. The next time you purchase a new tool, ensure you pick the friendliest design possible, provide the best training, and identify and share personal value.

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